HAGERSTOWN — On Sunday, Feb. 20, prom dress shoppers will have a chance to meet the man who may have made their dresses.
Arkansas-based formal wear designer Tony Bowls will be at Potomac Bridals Prom & Tuxedo in downtown Hagerstown, off Public Square. Bowls said he'll be at the shop offering advice and may sign a dress or two.
"If they want my opinion, I'm certainly going to tell them," Bowls said.
Bowls is a formal wear designer whose frocks are well known in the pageant world. He dressed 2009 Miss America Katie Stam and frequently provides dresses for Miss America and Miss USA contestants. Actress Ashley Greene from the "Twilight" saga is featured on the cover of last year's Teen Prom magazine wearing a Tony Bowls gown.
But lately, Bowls has been getting a jump on prom season by traveling to retailers across the region.
It's the reason he's coming to Hagerstown.
"I don't just sit in a corner in a room by myself coming up with crazy ideas and hope that that will be what the kids want," Bowls said. "I'm actually in these stores, traveling for 14 weeks, touring all over the U.S. meeting kids and finding out what those trends are. That's how I'm able to stay up with the pulse of what they're buying, what they're wanting."
What's in for prom
So what's big in prom right now? Everything.
Big hair, poofy shoulders, bejeweled and bedazzled dresses — this '80s stuff is popping in contemporary formal wear. The current group of prom dress shoppers, Bowls said, are less skittish about wearing fully sequined or beaded dresses. It seems they've also learned to love leopard.
"Alexis and Krystle are alive and well," Bowls said, referencing the notorious feud between Alexis (Joan Collins) and Krystle (Linda Evans) from ABC's Reagan-era soap opera, "Dynasty."
He once used the same reference on a bunch of high school students. "They thought I was talking about this big empire of rich people," Bowls said.
But once he got into the back story — that Krystle and Alexis were rivals and that the rivalry spilled over into trying to out-dress each other — the teens got it.
"It's like a friendly competition," Bowls said. "Being glamorous or flashier than the next girl seems to be the trend of competition."
The '80s called. They want their shoulder pads back
So how do you pull this off without looking like you're wearing your mama's prom gown?
"That's the trendy side of prom. Prom is very at the moment," Bowls said. "That's what's so difficult about my job. You can't think yesterday. It's very hard to predict the future because you have to be a designer of right now."
But to answer the question of how to reference the '80s and not look dated, Bowls pointed to a few modern updates — bright, geometric prints, fabrics in unpredictable shades or something other than a pastel and dresses with high-low hems.
Many teens still equate formal wear with wearing something long. But then you've got kids who've been to prior formals and are looking for something different. Sometimes they'll go for a short prom dress or they're mixing it up with a dress that has a high hem in the front and a longer hemline in the back, aka the "high-low."
"It still gives them the best of both worlds," Bowls said.
Mom and Dad still have to like it
No matter how much the teen thinks the dress is a winner, Mom or Dad still has to sign off on it — especially if they're paying for it. The cost of a Tony Bowls gown ranges from $375 to as much as $800.
Sometimes, Bowls said, he finds himself playing fashion referee.
"These kids today have more fashion sense," he said. "It's almost as though they are not shopping for prom in their mind. They're thinking of special event. This is a huge moment, kind of iconic in their minds. They think of it as a social step forward in their adult lives."
But not too adult.
"Some parents see them picking out things they would wear," Bowls said. "That's what scares them. That's why they resist."
If you go ...
WHAT: Meet formal wear designer Tony Bowls
WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20
WHERE: Potomac Bridals Prom & Tuxedo, 16 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown
MORE: For more information, call 301-665-1070, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.potomacbridalsprom.com.